Congress should handle sequestration issue – but will it?

Sequestration. It’s an unfamiliar word, but voters are going to hear it repeated over and over during the last few months of this year’s election campaign.

When federal lawmakers butted heads over raising the debt ceiling last year, it resulted in a Congressional supercommittee that was supposed to find bipartisan agreement on spending cuts.

To ensure that supercommittee members would reach agreement on spending priorities before a self-imposed deadline, a poison pill was added, called sequestration. It meant that if no agreement was reached – and it wasn’t, as we know now – it would trigger $1.2 trillion in cuts to domestic programs and defense spending.

Both sides of the political aisle are now running to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the sequestration. Translation: Blame the other guys.

If congressional leaders cannot agree to remove the sequestration threat, the cuts could have a pronounced effect on South Sound. About half of the total, or just over $600 billion, is earmarked to come from the Department of Defense.

The garrison commander at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Col. Charles Hodges, says the Pentagon has not yet asked for any spending reductions plans, but any reductions at JBLM could affect the fragile South Sound economy. The military plays a large role in driving our regional economy, especially the real estate market as soldiers are moved in and out of JBLM.

We hope lawmakers will head off sequestration before pink slips are issued, but is there any reason to panic? While $600 billion is a big number, when it’s spread out across the entire defense department over a 10-year period, it becomes a little less worrisome. Not insignificant, but maybe not the doom and gloom politicians are claiming.

The DoD’s annual base budget is nearly $600 billion, and that doesn’t count the billions assigned to Homeland Security. Surely the DoD is not such an efficiently run governmental department that a cut of 10 percent would compromise national security?

This is a nation that spends on its military five times the next highest spender, China, and we can’t find a 10 percent savings?

As a start, how about cutting the myriad obsolete and redundant weapons programs that exist only as pork barrel gestures to certain senators’ and representatives’ home districts?

Most sensible people want Republicans and Democrats to sit down and work this out. Everyone would prefer to avoid unnecessary cuts to domestic programs and the military.

But let’s not forget that 174 House Republicans voted for the measure. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was his party’s chief architect of the plan. President Barack Obama could probably be doing more to find an early resolution.

But these are the dangers of an extremely partisan Congress that refuses to compromise, and prefers to play dangerous political games of chicken.